Emerson Society celebrates Center director

Center for the Humanities Newsletter Photo
David M. Robinson

Center Director David Robinson was honored in July with the Ralph Waldo Emerson Society’s Distinguished Achievement Award, which was presented following Robinson’s address, “Natural History and Natural Life: Thoreau’s Intellectual and Emotional Crisis,” at the Thoreau Society Annual Gathering in Concord, Massachusetts.

A member of the Emerson Society’s awards committee declared David Robinson “one of the very few scholars on whom the whole modern Emerson enterprise is built.” A graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, he received the M.T.S. from the Harvard Divinity School and the M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. At OSU, Robinson is Oregon Professor of English and Distinguished Professor of American Literature in addition to his role at the Center.

The following, by Wesley T. Mott, Professor of English, Humanities and Arts, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, appeared in the Fall 2005 edition of The Emerson Society Papers: “Professor Robinson’s Emerson and the Conduct of Life (1993) is widely considered the best book on the pragmatic strain in Emerson’s thought. His first book, Apostle of Culture: Emerson as Preacher and Lecturer (1982), was a groundbreaking study of the theological and intellectual underpinnings of Emerson’s early career. In this book—as well as in dozens of articles and in the introductory historical essay to the four-volume Complete Sermons of Ralph Waldo Emerson—Professor Robinson firmly established the Unitarian foreground of Emersonian Transcendentalism. His The Unitarians and the Universalists (1985) is a standard biographical reference work, and his collections William Ellery Channing (1985), The Spiritual Emerson (2003), and The Political Emerson (2004) have made important writings of American religious liberalism available to a wider audience.

“Besides these major scholarly projects, Professor Robinson has written the annual bibliographical essay, “Emerson, Thoreau, and Margaret Fuller,” for American Literary Scholarship since 1988, and since 1991 he has compiled the official annual bibliography for Emerson Society Papers. Valued as a generous colleague across the profession, he is a frequent presenter at scholarly conferences, contributor to reference works and festschrifts, and past president of the Emerson Society. His lectures, like his books and essays, are admired for a grace and a clarity that render even complex issues of intellectual history and theological controversy accessible.

“A leading Emerson scholar for the past quarter century, Professor Robinson recently turned his attention to Henry Thoreau—with equally impressive results. Natural Life: Thoreau’s Worldly Transcendentalism (2004) has been hailed by Bradley P. Dean, editor of the Thoreau Society Bulletin, as one of the best books ever written about Thoreau. The Emerson Society proudly shares David Robinson with our Thoreauvian friends even as we honor him with our highest award.”